Stages Power for Cyclocross
I’m a long time fan of Stages Cycling and use their power meters on all my bikes (road, TT, and cross), but this is the first season I’ve added them to my cyclocross race bikes, and I have to say, race day power numbers are really cool! As a caveat, my knowledge of power data is quite limited; I’m a big picture person and I generally give this information to my coach to dissect, but I admit it’s quite fun to see, especially with the large number of graphing tools available on the new Stages Link software.
Cyclocross is a unique racing discipline comprised of a large number of accelerations and max effort sprints, interspersed with off the bike running. Races present a high physical demand, which I’ve felt exquisitely during this year’s transition from road season, and it’s been helpful to use race day power data to help identify weaknesses and adjust training for improved performance. It’s also satisfying to see why I feel so smashed after races – a power meter certainly helps with that by identifying how much of my race was spent pedaling in high training zones. Paired with fifty minutes at a very high heart rate, I definitely have reason to feel gassed at the finish line!
The Stages Dash file depicted here represents my Saturday race at the Sacramento Grand Prix of Cyclocross, where I began to feel snappier on the bike, but ran into some pretty obvious physical limits later in the race. In this image power is represented in green, and heart rate is represented in red. Data from my Stages power meter depicts 142 distinct accelerations during this roughly 48 minute race, most of them executed well above threshold power with a normalized power of 259 watts, a max power of 868 watts, and roughly 35% of the race spent at power numbers above threshold. That might not seem like a lot, but when paired with heart rate distribution, where I spent 100% of my time in training zone 5 (or V02), it’s easy to see I have some work to do. I don’t know about you, but I think it looks pretty different from a time trial! And as such, I need to train quite differently. I know that intuitively, but this file paints a pretty clear picture about training needs, and I think it’s invaluable.
Moving on, let’s contrast the Sacramento power data with a file from last weekend’s race at Charm City CX in Baltimore. Keep in mind I went into this race purposely just a little bit tired and then…it got hot, and very humid, and I didn’t prep for, or handle the conditions particularly well. I’m talking swamp weather. I’d venture to say this was the most miserable and challenging weather I’ve ever raced a bike in, including time trial nationals in Knoxville Tennessee, where you could have poached an egg on the pavement. The course in Baltimore was well designed and presented plenty of climbing, power sections, and repetitive off-the-bike maneuvering. What’s helpful about this file is that it provides discrete evidence of how poorly I was racing in the heat. Yes, I literally felt like I was pedaling through a flaming, under water, garbage dump, and my data file depicts that with a normalized power of 221 watts, a max power of 912 watts, and roughly 41% of the race spent at power numbers above threshold, with 100% of the race spent at a heart rate in zone 5 (V02). While the two race files have some obvious similarities, you can see that I was operating at a much lower percentage of my power capabilities during the Charm City race, with decoupling of heart rate and wattage. The notable difference here is a high-sustained heart rate, early and high power peaks followed by a decrease in accelerations and power peaks, and lower normalized power on a course with greater elevation gain and many more power sections than the Sacramento course. What was the big difference for me? Humidity. I understand that humidity makes me sweat at a rapidly increased rate, which increases my rate of fluid loss, and elevates my heart rate, but how did it affect my power? It decreased my power, by a lot. In a nutshell, I went out hot and faded early - I wasn’t pedaling very well. Thanks to Stages I can quantify this, and I can use the data to improve future heat adaptation and performance.
When data and graphs are said and done, there is still nothing more important than how you feel on a bike. Moreover, there is nothing more important than mental training and finding a state of flow, sharpness, and fun on your bike. It’s very possible to overcome conditions and fatigue with an appropriate state of mind and adaptive nutrition. I know it can be done, because I’ve done it before, but thanks to Stages I also have race-day power data to dial in the nuances of cyclocross training, and improve performance over time.